There was a time when we had hit after hit when it came to sung-through musicals with soaring scores and gorgeous melodies. In my opinion, the end of that era was bookended by the marvellous modern Broadway classic Ragtime in the 1990s, which has been given a new life in this gorgeous actor-musician revival at the Charing Cross Theatre. This new production highlights the complex characters, gritty backdrop and the stunning score – the three best things that the show has to offer – in a revival that is unmissable.
The story of Ragtime is a complex one as it’s adapted from the American classic novel of the same name by Edgar Lawrence Doctorow, but the basic premise follows a white family, a black family and a Jewish immigrant family as they navigate their way around America at the turn of the 20th Century. Along the way, the families try to follow their dreams in the Land of the Free – all end up heartbroken at one point or another, and not everyone seems to find happiness again. It’s a story full of high drama and massively emotional, tearjerker moments that is sure to take you on an emotional ride to rival shows like Les Miserables.
The cast in this production help to make it so fantastic for sure with some perfect casting decisions made by Lead Producer and Casting Director Danielle Tarento. The entire cast as an ensemble work together as a unit perfectly; I do not remember the last time I saw a show with such a strong and impressively talented cast. Personal standouts include Anita Louise Combe as Mother (a true scene stealer); Jennifer Saayeng as Sarah who gave a performance of ‘Your Daddy’s Son’ that reduced me to tears; Gary Tushaw as Tateh who sang with such raw emotion that you could not see through his character whatsoever; Ako Mitchell as the chilling Coalhouse Walker Jr.. There were many more standout performances.
The real star of the show in this case though is the gorgeous music, composed by Stephen Flaherty with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. These soaring melodies that make you goosebump multiple times throughout the show are highlighted so beautifully by the new orchestrations for this production by Mark Aspinall. The music is really made to feel like a character in this revival as the actors play the music on stage, incorporating their instruments into the performance like it’s an extra limb that’s always been there. It’s seamless and impressive and when you have a score as gorgeous as this one, it’s wonderful to see it be at the forefront.
The design in this new revival transform this fanciful world of New York City into a grungy world. Tom Rogers and Toots Butcher have designed a New York that is dark and dingy in every sense of the word, from the wood to the dark colours. Howard Hudson’s fabulous lighting design enhances that dusky feeling that the show has to it, which in turn match the colour and vibe that come from Jonathan Lipman’s costume design. The show oozes a darker tone to it that has never felt as explored as it does in this revival, both in performance and in design.
Whether you’re a fan of Ragtime or not, this revival is a perfect example of how excellent a show can be even better when it’s scaled down and reimagined. Despite the story being set over a hundred years ago, the narrative is just as eerily relevant today as it was then and this new production helps to bring that story into 2016.
Review by Shaun Nolan
Following the critically acclaimed, sell-out production of Titanic, Thom Sutherland, Artistic Director of the Charing Cross Theatre directs a new production of Ragtime, playing for a strictly limited season.
It is the turn of the 20th Century in New York. An era is exploding. A century is spinning. And the people are moving in rhythm and rhyme to the music of Ragtime. Based on the novel by E.L Doctorow, Ragtime weaves together the story of three groups in America, represented by Coalhouse Walker Jr, a Harlem musician; Mother and her white, middle-class family in New Rochelle; and Tateh, a Jewish immigrant who has come to America with his daughter seeking a new life. Their fictional lives become dramatically intertwined with one another as well as with historical figures including Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington, JP Morgan and Henry Ford.
Ragtime led the 1998 Tony Awards with 12 nominations, winning 4 including Best Book by Terrence McNally and Best Original Score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.
The full cast are: Simon Anthony, Bernadette Bangura, Anthony Cable, Earl Carpenter, Anita Louise Combe, Valerie Cutko, Christopher Dickins, Nolan Frederick, Tom Giles, Joanna Hickman, Lemuel Knights, Martin Ludenbach, James Mack, Ako Mitchell, Sufia Manya, Seyi Omooba, Jess Ryan, Kate Robson-Stuart, Jennifer Saayeng, Jonathan Stewart, Gary Tushaw, and child actors Alana Hinge, Samuel Peterson, Ethan Quinn, Riya Vyas.
Director: Thom Southerland
Orchestrator and Musical Supervisor: Mark Aspinall
Choreographer: Ewan Jones
Set Designers: Tom Rogers and Toots Butcher
Lighting Designer: Howard Hudson
Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson
Costume Designer: Jonathan Lipman
Musical Director: Jordan Li-Smith
Casting Director: Danielle Tarento
Producers: Danielle Tarento, Steven M. Levy, Sean Sweeney, Vaughan Williams
Saturday 8 October – Saturday 10 December
Press night Monday 17 October at 7.30pm
Charing Cross Theatre
London WC2N 6NL